David Callaghan, director of Next to Normal at Red Mountain Theatre February 18-21, knows the play personally. He’s seen the Broadway original twice and lived it intimately for months of preparation for our stage. Want to know what’s what? Here we go with his thoughts on N2N (we love it so much we use its nickname!)
Q&A: THE DIRECTOR SPEAKS
1. Next to Normal is a rock musical about a family grappling with a bipolar mother and the rippling effects on their day-to-day existence. What drew you to the play?
Callaghan: This piece has been at the top of my “To Direct” list, a real passion project for me. Great theater transcends the subject–and there’s something in N2N that everyone can connect to. It’s not just about mental health issues. You’re going to recognize these people, I assure you. It grabs you by the heart and takes you on a ride with compassion, grace and humor.
2. Humor? We’ll actually laugh?
Callaghan: You will definitely laugh. We all use humor as a way to cope with the issues of life. While this isn’t a comedy, the emotions are all displayed in a very human range.
3. What about the music?
Callaghan: I think this is the best score in the last decade–up to the debut of Hamilton recently. Next to Normal’s songs are incredible. Only 8 musicals have ever won a Pulitzer Prize–and N2N [2010 award for Drama] claims a place in theater history along with shows like Rent [1996 winner].
4. Is it safe to say that N2N follows in Rent’s footsteps with a serious subject set to contemporary music?
Callaghan: Definitely. The sense of structure and storytelling devices are similar. There are parallels in that both deal with real life issues.
5. How did Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt conceive of wapping music around the saga of a fractured family?
Callaghan: It’s courageous, I agree. They started with a 10-minute student project at Columbia University–mostly about electroshock therapy in those early days. Then they worked and re-worked the piece for a decade before reaching Broadway (earning the Outer Circle Critics Award, 11 Tony nominations, 3 Tony awards, and, of course, the Pulitzer.).
6. What’s your personal take on this award-winning piece?
Callaghan: Theater can insightfully capture real life in an entertaining way. I like to think that the characters are all sympathetic in their own ways. They’re very human. They make mistakes but try to do the right thing.
7. Does this play resolve all the issues, basically sending you off with a completed story?
Callaghan: Let’s just say that it doesn’t wrap up in a realistic way, but it does leave you hopeful. You can see that everybody on the stage is trying to move toward something more positive. I think that’s why the final song is called “Light.”
8. So we drive home still thinking about the characters and their futures?
Callaghan: You’re not going to turn it off immediately and I think the songs will live in your head. We’ll also include an audience engagement session at the conclusion of each performance so you can stay and talk. Everyone will have a different interpretation.